Build on Your Strengths

b2ap3_thumbnail_strengths_finder.jpg"Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?" ~ Benjamin Franklin

This post has been a long time coming. A year ago I was given a book called Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath which immediately went on the bookshelf to be forgotten, until I did some reorganizing a few weeks ago. I knew nothing about the book or the author other than it was a Wall Street Journal Bestseller, and I got that from the cover! With my Comparative Education Masters course finished I decided to make it my next reading, as I could tell from flipping through it that it wouldn't take long to finish. 

The premise of the book and the research behind it is that almost any learning program is trying to help us become who we are not. In other words, helping us develop our weaknesses. The author Tom Rath begins the first chapter with the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, the diminutive groundskeeper at Notre Dame's football stadium that the 1993 movie Rudy was based on. Of course this story is inspirational and perfect for Hollywood because it gives people hope that they too could overcome their deficits to achieve their goals. He relives his childhood trying to become the next Michael Jordan, giving 100% in every practice and basketball camp he attended. These examples provide a context that permeates our culture - "You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough". This is so prevalent today that you may even find yourself advising young people of the same message and not even realize it. But how true is it? As I finished the first chapter I began to think about my own weaknesses, things that if I tried hard enough I could master, and I realized that I am never going to be an artist, a painter or a singer no matter how hard I try.  Strengths Finder asks the reader to revise our culture to one of "you cannot be anything you want to be - but you can be a lot more of who you already are". 

The next two chapters gives the reader a look into strengths psychology, the vast amount of research behind it and guidelines to complete your own strengths survey. At this point I was excited to take the 30 minute survey to find out what my strengths were and how I could use them to learn more about myself. The book provides an activation code that you enter on the strengths finder website to access the survey. The survey consists of a series of questions that you have 20 seconds to respond to. The purpose is to identify your most intense natural responses, which are less likely to change over time. After completing the survey an individual report is generated outlining the top 5 themes of the 34 identified through the research. The report also provides an Action-Planning Guide for setting goals and building on your strengths. As I completed the survey I was very mindful of being honest with my responses and answering with my first initial response as I wanted the most accurate analysis possible for my own growth. Here are my top 5 themes from the survey with a brief description.

Developer - ability to recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements. 

Learner - a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

Harmony - look for consensus. They don't enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.

Adaptability - prefer to "go with the flow." They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

Individualization - intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively. 

I must say that after reading my strengths report and doing a bit of self-reflection these 5 themes do accurately paint a picture of what I feel are my strengths. I don't recall thinking about any of these in any great detail before reading the book, but a couple have been mentioned in my performance appraisals and evaluations in the past. 

The second part of the book outlines in detail each of the 34 strength themes in detail, providing action plans for each and how to work with someone with that theme. So even though you have a great individual report of your strengths with an action plan to build on it's well worth reading about all the themes as you will be working and interacting with people that have different strengths than your own. 

What's even better is that the same author has a second strengths based book, Strengths Based Leadership. I see another survey and self-reflection on the horizon for me! 

I would love to hear from anyone about their themes from strengths finder or just your thoughts about the concept and ideas behind being a lot more of who you are.


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